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Congested McLean intersection up for redesign with new walkway

Thursday afternoon traffic at the Balls Hill Road and Old Dominion Drive intersection (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County has a plan to fix the Balls Hill Road and Old Dominion Drive intersection, but it will likely take another half-decade for the changes to fall into place.

Construction on the proposed realignment — which will split the X-shaped intersection into two T intersections — isn’t expected to start until the spring of 2027, finishing in fall 2028, Fairfax County Department of Transportation staff told the community in a pair of meetings this week.

The lengthy timeline partly stems from an extensive utility relocation process projected take up to 24 months. It could be shortened if the supply-chain issues that have slowed construction during the pandemic abate.

“Some of those [utility] poles are located right now where we’d need to put roadway stuff, sidewalks, whatever, so they have to be out of the way before we can begin construction,” FCDOT project manager Jared Kerr said during a virtual meeting on Wednesday (June 22).

An in-person meeting was held last night (Thursday) at Churchill Elementary School.

Fairfax County’s proposed preliminary design for the Balls Hill Road and Old Dominion Drive intersection (via FCDOT)

Local transportation officials say the wait will be worthwhile for McLean drivers, whose patience is regularly tested by traffic congestion in the central intersection between I-495 and Route 123.

Selected out of three options proposed when the county first brought the project forward in 2018, the T-intersection concept will move traffic more efficiently by reducing driver confusion and relocating signals so vehicles are less likely to block residential driveways, FCDOT staff say.

By 2045, the changes will shave almost two minutes off the average morning rush-hour delay and three minutes off peak afternoon travel times compared to what would happen if nothing is done, according to a staff presentation.

Those couple of minutes could mean the difference between sitting through one or two traffic signal cycles and limit vehicle queues to 125 to 150 feet long. Currently, queues on Balls Hill can extend over half a mile, backing up to The Langley School, one resident at Wednesday’s meeting observed.

“Because Old Dominion Drive is now operating as the main approach for both these intersections, you’re going to see more efficient operations and queuing will be reduced,” traffic analyst Andy Smith said. “The intersection is going to operate a lot more smoothly now.”

Proposed new walkways on Balls Hill Road and Old Dominion Drive (via FCDOT)

While primarily intended to provide traffic relief, the project will also give the corridor some new pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

FCDOT proposes building concrete walkways on Balls Hill from Churchill Road and on Old Dominion from just north of the new intersections to Van Ness Court. On the east side, the walkways will be 5 feet wide with a 2.5-foot buffer, and on the west side, they will be 6 feet wide with no buffer.

According to Kerr, the project team had initially looked at 8-foot-wide asphalt sidewalks but opted to narrow the facilities to reduce impacts to adjacent properties.

An estimated 34 land parcels will still be affected by right-of-way dedications and permanent or temporary construction easements. The county has acquired two parcels for a stormwater management pond.

When asked whether the walkways could be extended further — for instance, along southbound Balls Hill or east on Old Dominion to Earnestine Street — Kerr reported that inflation has already pushed the project slightly over its planned budget.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t look at it in the future. It just means we don’t have funding now,” he said.

Despite the utility relocations, property impacts, and tree removals, multiple community members voiced support for the proposal, at least as a general concept.

“I think this project in the long term is definitely going to be great for the area,” a resident from the Mehr Farm neighborhood said.

The community meetings kicked off a public comment period with a deadline of July 29. Feedback on the preliminary design can be sent to FCDOT through an online form.

Map via Google Maps

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